Belfast Telegraph

Block on Northern Ireland patient transfers to GB to help tackle waiting lists but they can go to Lithuania, claims doctor

Chairman of the Northern Ireland BMA Council Tom Black (BMA Northern Ireland/PA)
Chairman of the Northern Ireland BMA Council Tom Black (BMA Northern Ireland/PA)
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

A senior Northern Ireland doctor has claimed there is a block on allowing the transfer of patients to other parts of the UK in order to circumvent local waiting lists.

But patients can be sent to Lithuania for treatment, he said.

Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland made the comments on the BBC Stephen Nolan show.

The BMA is the trade union body for doctors in the UK. Its membership is comprised of over two-thirds of practising doctors.

Dr Black described as "extraordinary" a process which allowed him to refer patients to Lithuania for operations but was told he couldn't request treatment in other parts of the UK.

The medic said patients were smart and were requesting to have procedures done in other parts of the UK where they would not have to wait as long but the Health and Social Care Board would block the request stating the service was available locally.

"The fact you might have to wait eight, nine or 10 years to get your hip done and you'll be long dead seems to be beside the point," he said.

Dr Black said it was not a local issue but something that was happening throughout Northern Ireland.

"None of my colleagues are allowed to refer out of NI," he added.

"If you are 80/85 you can't come back in a plane after a hip replacement... if I put in a request for a extra contractual referral - that's the technical term - to Scotland or England because your daughter or son live there and they say 'I'll look after you' and there is no waiting list, I am told 'no you are not allowed to refer to England Scotland or Wales'.

"It is extraordinary."

Health professionals have long warned about rising waiting times, blaming the worsening situation on a range of issues.

Northern Ireland's waiting lists have reached record levels with over 300,000 waiting to see a consultant. Thousands have been waiting over a year for procedures.

Around one in 16 people in Northern Ireland are on a waiting list, compared to one in 48,000 in England.

Surgeons have warned the local health system is on the bring of collapse. The Ulster Unionist party has called for immediate intervention from Westminster.

Dr Black's comments come amid a series of healthcare strikes and industrial action. Nurses are set to stage a walk out on Wednesday and he warned that could have dire consequences for the service unless pay parity was offered to the unions.

Health workers taking part in industrial action in Northern Ireland

The Derry-based GP said NI was facing an unprecedented situation and there was a need for "quick decisions".

He appealed to the politicians to stop talking and take decisive action.

"I need a minister, our patients need a minister to make decisions... we need that fixed today or tomorrow. We can't go into Wednesday, it is just not doable it will fall down on Wednesday," he added.

"Then we need the waiting lists sorted out and then we need transformation of services and the investment, these are the things any health minister would do in any country and here we are three years later without any decisions made."

The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), in a statement to the BBC said there were procedures in place to allow for the transfer of patients to other parts of the UK or state-funded in other European countries.

It said it recognised the "very long waiting times" and the distress and anxiety caused to patients.

The Extra Contractual Referral process referred to, the HSCB said, was for arrangements in other locations but was not to provide for procedures that were available in Northern Ireland.

It said procedures could be transferred to other parts of the UK as part of a drive to reduce waiting lists.

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